Bridging the divide between LA cops and community through football

Watts Rams is about giving underprivileged kids in Los Angeles a chance to be apart of something with coaches that participate in aspects of their lives on and off the field.
6:34 | 12/07/21

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Transcript for Bridging the divide between LA cops and community through football
REPORTER: Under the bright lights, these kids are learning to pass, catch, and run with the ball on the only turf seen for miles. This is practice, but this football program is tackling much more than x's and o's. MALE: Whoever over here at the x, they're running the post. REPORTER: If the helmets look familiar, that navy blue with the yellow horn, that's because the kids are wearing Los Angeles Rams gear. They may live in the same city as the pros, but in many ways, they're a world away. Once Rams, though, are navigating a path to victory. They're just one game away from the peewee championship and the chance to play in SoFi Stadium, host of this season's Super Bowl. For 14-year-old Johnny Howze, it's the opportunity of a lifetime. JOHNNY HOWZE: I always dreamed about it as a kid. I just don't have words for it. I mean, I imagine all the fans just standing up, if I scored a touchdown, throw a touchdown, get a sack, anything. ZARREN THOMPSON: Hold one. REPORTER: This team is all about making those dreams come true both on and off the field. - Round 25 slot reverse, 1, 2, 3, run to the ball. REPORTER: And the coaches duties don't stop after the last whistle blows. That's because the team is coached by LAPD cops serving the underprivileged neighborhood of Watts. OFFICER 1: Hey, partner. Are you ready to go? REPORTER: Officer Steve Rodriguez and Jose Soto gear up to make one of their regular visits to the schools in the area. - Is there any other kids that are out there right now at the recess? REPORTER: But they're not here to make arrests. STUDENT: Hi, Mr. Rodriguez. - How are you? Are we picking you up tomorrow? REPORTER: Instead, they're checking on their players. OFFICER 2: How are guys doing? STUDENTS: Good. - We're visiting. We're just visiting. Hello, guys. We just want to say hi. We're just here to say hello. Hey, hey, how are you? REPORTER: It's all part of a proactive effort to bridge the trust gap between members of law enforcement and a community, where the roots of distrust run deep. ANNOUNCER: Six days of rioting in a negro section of Los Angeles, left behind scenes reminiscent of war-torn cities. REPORTER: In 1965, an altercation between Highway Patrol officers and two black motorists sparked the Watts Riots. The violence lasted for six days and left 34 people dead, more than 1,000 injured, and many more behind bars. LA would see similar turmoil, again, nearly 30 years later following the police beating of Rodney King, and most recently, civil unrest erupting in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, leaving an impact on a new generation. For Johnny, the Watts Rams has become a second family, and his mom has noticed a big difference. CYNTHIA HOWZE: That's all he does is dream and sleep playing football. Grades have gone up, you know, chores at home, respectable. They've got him to be a nice young man. ZARREN THOMPSON: No walking. REPORTER: Back on the field, these young players don't see cops, just coaches. - 1, 2, 3. REPORTER: Zarren Thompson, the players call him coach Z, started the team back in 2011. - A wild dream, I took 30 kids from different housing developments within South LA. I started a team with 30. Now, we're over 100 plus. INTERVIEWER: You're not only here with these kids. You're also out in the streets. You're seeing it day in and day out. - The relationship with the police in the community, it's getting better, so a lot a lot of parents, a lot of families are buying into what we're doing. But we still have that little trust issue. REPORTER: 13-year-old Lucille Hall has seen the trust issues firsthand. LUCILLE HALL: When they came to see my grades at the school, they came in all their police gear and stuff, you know? I go to a mainly black school, and everybody was like, oh no. Everybody was just scared. This one kid, I think, started crying, and I was like, nah, they're cool. They're chill, like these are police that you could, like, trust. REPORTER: On a team that welcomes both boys and girls, Lucille proudly wears a pink mouth guard, and she's getting used to the feel of a helmet and shoulder pads. - Are y'all ready to play? PLAYERS: Yes, sir. REPORTER: It's changing her perception not only of the game, but of law enforcement as well. - One of my cousins, he got shot by the police, and it was just, like, a lot for my whole family. And that's when I was like, no, I don't ever, like, want to be associated with police. And now, I see that, wow, police actually-- they're not all, like, the same, you know? REPORTER: Johnny, who has aspirations of one day repping the NFL Rams, shares a similar experience. - I had a family member gunned down, and the police weren't doing anything about it. And then I always thought they were lazy. They didn't do nothing. I came to the watch Rams, and I realized how hard they work. - So when you think about police officers now, what do you think? - I think they're heroes. - There's gangs in the community. There's overpopulated schools in the community, so they're dealing with stuff that I dealt with as a kid growing up in South LA of myself. Like I always say, I know my babies are safe from six o'clock to eight. - You just called them your babies. Why do you call them your babies? - Now, you're about to make me choke up, but I tell them all the time. I love you guys, like you're my own. MARK MAY: When we talk about just drugs, and gangs, and all those things, they're here, you know? But it doesn't define what the community represents. These kids, they want to be more than that, but what this program does is it allows them to become a part of something else that belongs to the community in such a meaningful and impactful way. REPORTER: In 2017, the Los Angeles Rams sponsored the team. MOLLY HIGGINS: I fell in love with the program, and the vision, and what was possible. I was confident, if the Rams came in, we could really kind of add rocket fuel to what they were already doing and make it even better. REPORTER: The Rams providing uniforms, a state of the art field, and the chance to meet NFL players and coaches. One of the biggest traits was the chance to compete in the peewee championships at SoFi Stadium, and this year, the little Rams did just that. Battling it out, but ultimately suffering defeat, leaving the players with tears in their eyes. - You win some, lose some, homey. No big deal. REPORTER: While they say football is a game of inches, for the Watts Rams, it's a game of connections, bonding residents and cops, players and coaches. - 1, 2, 3. - Building a team that's winning, even after it's lost.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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